The Australian Open has long been the jewel in Melbourne’s sporting crown but residents with bitter memories of COVID-19 lockdowns fear the Grand Slam could yet prove a poisoned chalice.
As the country nears two weeks without a case of community transmission, Tennis Australia spent some A$40 million ($30.58 million) flying in 1,200 players and personnel from around the world and putting them through two weeks of hotel quarantine.
Unlike at last year’s French and US Opens, where the focus was on minimizing the risk of infection to the players, the measures in place for the Australian Open are to protect locals who paid dearly for the freedoms they currently enjoy.
“I think it’s horrible they’re putting the Australian Open on,” said Liam Janke, a chef in Melbourne’s CBD, as he took a cigarette break during his shift on Friday.
“It’s such a massive risk. It’s like they don’t even remember what happened here last year.”
In front of 4,000 fans at Memorial Drive, professional tennis returned in 2021.#AdelaideTennis— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 29, 2021
Melbourne was the epicenter of Australia’s largest second wave outbreak, which sprung from returned travelers infecting staff in hotel quarantine.
The outbreak in mid-2020 ended up costing nearly 800 lives and ruined countless livelihoods as some five million people endured one of the world’s strictest lockdowns for nearly four months.
With the virus now under control, Melbourne has regained most of its pre-COVID freedoms and Australia is being held up by other nations as a model for how to contain it.
Yet many Melbourne residents remain cautious about gathering in large numbers and news of a slew of positive tests among the quarantined Australian Open cohort rekindled fears about the potential for another outbreak.